Science

Treasures of the Natural World tours science's greatest hits

Treasures of the Natural World...
A 12,000-year old saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis), recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California. Dr. Karen Roberts, Collection Manager of Vertebrate Zoology at Melbourne Museum, looks on.
A 12,000-year old saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis), recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California. Dr. Karen Roberts, Collection Manager of Vertebrate Zoology at Melbourne Museum, looks on.
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A 12,000-year old saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis), recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California. Dr. Karen Roberts, Collection Manager of Vertebrate Zoology at Melbourne Museum, looks on.
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A 12,000-year old saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis), recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California. Dr. Karen Roberts, Collection Manager of Vertebrate Zoology at Melbourne Museum, looks on.
The huge sheathes on the toes of the saber-toothed cat were there to protect its claws as they retract
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The huge sheathes on the toes of the saber-toothed cat were there to protect its claws as they retract
The oldest book in the Natural History Museum's collection, this edition of Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis was published in 1469
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The oldest book in the Natural History Museum's collection, this edition of Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis was published in 1469
Some of the exhibit's larger specimens, including a Japanese giant crab (left) and a cassowary (right)
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Some of the exhibit's larger specimens, including a Japanese giant crab (left) and a cassowary (right)
A whole swarm of fossilized trilobites that are believed to have died during a mass mating event
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A whole swarm of fossilized trilobites that are believed to have died during a mass mating event
A model of a dodo, the creature that perhaps most clearly represents human-induced extinction
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A model of a dodo, the creature that perhaps most clearly represents human-induced extinction
A cast of one of the only preserved dodo heads in existence
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A cast of one of the only preserved dodo heads in existence
Previous owners of this amethyst believed it was cursed, and it was eventually donated to the Natural History Museum with a letter warning it is "trebly accursed and is stained with the blood and dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it."
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Previous owners of this amethyst believed it was cursed, and it was eventually donated to the Natural History Museum with a letter warning it is "trebly accursed and is stained with the blood and dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it."
This huge fish is a giant grouper, captured in India about 100 years ago. The species is now threatened by overfishing
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This huge fish is a giant grouper, captured in India about 100 years ago. The species is now threatened by overfishing
This 717-gram (25.3-oz) crystallized gold nugget was found near Heathcote, Victoria, Australia, during the gold rush in 1853. It survived the usual fate of being melted down after it was sold to the British Museum.
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This 717-gram (25.3-oz) crystallized gold nugget was found near Heathcote, Victoria, Australia, during the gold rush in 1853. It survived the usual fate of being melted down after it was sold to the British Museum.
A skeleton of the Heavy-footed Moa, a giant flightless bird from New Zealand that went extinct soon after the arrival of humans
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A skeleton of the Heavy-footed Moa, a giant flightless bird from New Zealand that went extinct soon after the arrival of humans
A first edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species
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A first edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species
A small ground finch (left) and a Chilean mockingbird (right) from Charles Darwin's collection, which were instrumental in the development of the theory of evolution
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A small ground finch (left) and a Chilean mockingbird (right) from Charles Darwin's collection, which were instrumental in the development of the theory of evolution
An exceptionally well-preserved skeleton of a young ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that looked a lot like a dolphin and lived alongside the dinosaurs 200 million years ago. This specimen was discovered by influential British paleontologist Mary Anning
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An exceptionally well-preserved skeleton of a young ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that looked a lot like a dolphin and lived alongside the dinosaurs 200 million years ago. This specimen was discovered by influential British paleontologist Mary Anning
A huge claw from the thumb of a Baryonyx, a relative of Spinosaurus. The dinosaur likely used this claw to snare fish and rip open its prey
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A huge claw from the thumb of a Baryonyx, a relative of Spinosaurus. The dinosaur likely used this claw to snare fish and rip open its prey
Amateur fossil hunter William Walker holds the Baryonyx claw he discovered
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Amateur fossil hunter William Walker holds the Baryonyx claw he discovered
Much of the display material of the Treasures of the Natural World exhibition are built using cardboard, so that they can be easily recycled after the show ends
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Much of the display material of the Treasures of the Natural World exhibition are built using cardboard, so that they can be easily recycled after the show ends
The jawbone of "Piltdown Man" – a so-called missing link between apes and humans that turned out to be one of the greatest scientific hoaxes of all time. Its "discoverer," Charles Dawson, had combined fragments of human and orangutan bones into one skull
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The jawbone of "Piltdown Man" – a so-called missing link between apes and humans that turned out to be one of the greatest scientific hoaxes of all time. Its "discoverer," Charles Dawson, had combined fragments of human and orangutan bones into one skull
The tiny fossil skull of a primate from about 6 million years ago – Mesopithecus pentelici – which would have been about 40 cm (15.7 in) long
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The tiny fossil skull of a primate from about 6 million years ago – Mesopithecus pentelici – which would have been about 40 cm (15.7 in) long
The thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, was considered a pest and was wiped out by farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The last known specimen died in captivity in 1936.
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The thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, was considered a pest and was wiped out by farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The last known specimen died in captivity in 1936.
15-million-year old fossil teeth from Megalodon, the largest shark to ever live
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15-million-year old fossil teeth from Megalodon, the largest shark to ever live
The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the largest butterfly species in the world. The female (left) has a wingspan of up to 30 cm (11.8 in), while the male (right) is smaller but more colorful
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The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the largest butterfly species in the world. The female (left) has a wingspan of up to 30 cm (11.8 in), while the male (right) is smaller but more colorful
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Some of the most intriguing items from the Natural History Museum in London have made their way to Melbourne Museum in Victoria, Australia. The Treasures of the Natural World exhibition has finally opened, showcasing a selection of important artefacts from nature and the scientists who explored it.

The London Natural History Museum is home to one of the largest and most important scientific collections in the world. And since we can’t currently travel, the museum has kindly brought 200 of the most important pieces to us – Melbourne is the fifth city to host the Treasures of the Natural World exhibition, after Tokyo, Singapore, Taipei and Quebec City.

Some of the exhibit's larger specimens, including a Japanese giant crab (left) and a cassowary (right)
Some of the exhibit's larger specimens, including a Japanese giant crab (left) and a cassowary (right)

Among the highlights are a 12,000-year old saber-toothed cat skeleton, exceptionally well-preserved since the Ice Age thanks to the La Brea tar pits in California. As the guides explained, much can be inferred from the bones about the life of these animals – their powerful front limbs would have been used to pin down their prey, while the huge fangs delivered a quick killing blow. Sheaths on the tips of the toes hint at the terrifying retractable claws that they would have housed.

Other sections of the exhibition showcase items belonging to some of the most influential scientists in history. There are fossil fragments that Richard Owen used during his comparative anatomy studies, which led to him identifying a large group of extinct animals – and naming them “Dinosauria.” Owen went on to co-found the Natural History Museum itself.

The oldest book in the Natural History Museum's collection, this edition of Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis was published in 1469
The oldest book in the Natural History Museum's collection, this edition of Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis was published in 1469

Also on display are birds from the collection of Charles Darwin, which were instrumental in the development of the theory of evolution. And we can see the culmination of that work, with a rare first edition of On the Origin of Species in a replica of his office. Another hugely seminal book, Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, is present and accounted for too – the edition on display, published in 1469, is the oldest book in the Museum’s collection.

A skeleton of the Heavy-footed Moa, a giant flightless bird from New Zealand that went extinct soon after the arrival of humans
A skeleton of the Heavy-footed Moa, a giant flightless bird from New Zealand that went extinct soon after the arrival of humans

However it’s not all scientific praise – several icons of extinction serve as stark reminders of humanity’s negative influence on nature. The dodo of Mauritius, the thylacine of Tasmania and the moa of New Zealand were all hunted to extinction within a century of humans arriving in each location, and their legacies are discussed in the exhibition.

So come take a virtual stroll with us through the exhibit in our gallery – or if you can get to Melbourne, go check it out in person. Treasures of the Natural World is now running at Melbourne Museum until January 16, 2022.

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